Aug. 14, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The 115th U.S. Amateur Golf Championship had 7,047 entries in 2015. There are only 312 spots in the field … and Marshall’s Logan Lagodich and Alex Weiss have two of those.
And while Lagodich, a senior, and Weiss, a sophomore, continue a strong Thundering Herd tradition of entrants in the U.S. Amateur, each could be considered a somewhat unlikely participant considering some recent history.
A year ago, Lagodich, of Canton, Ohio, was trying to get off crutches following right hip surgery on July 7, 2014 for removal of painful bone growth into muscle. Marshall Coach Matt Grobe thought the then-junior would need to redshirt, but Lagodich played and even won the weather-shortened Hummingbird Intercollegiate in western North Carolina last fall.
Weiss came to the Herd from Pickerington, Ohio, and impressed with a 74.38 stroke average in his rookie season. However, his 36-hole Amateur qualifying round at a sodden Edgewood Country Club last month began with a 4-over-par 75 – with only one Amateur berth available at the Kanawha County site.
The Amateur opens Monday at historic Olympia Fields, in suburban Chicago, with two days and 36 holes of medal play qualifying to reach a 64-player match play bracket. The championship match is scheduled Sunday, Aug. 23.
The 312 players will play each of the two Olympia Fields courses – North and South – on the first two days. The Herd duo will open from No. 10 on the North Course on Monday. That par-70, 7,234-yard course will be the site of all six rounds of match play.
“I’ve never been this excited to play in a tournament in my life,” Weiss said this week. “You can’t really go in and not be nervous. It’s the U.S. Amateur. If you’re not nervous, then you don’t care.”
Lagodich calls the Olympia Fields layout, site of the Amateur “the hardest course I’ve ever seen … especially because there are a lot of fairway bunkers, and most of those bunkers come into play, about 290-300 (yards). It’s one thing to see fairway bunkers. It’s another to have so many of them in play.”
Weiss and Lagodich drove together from Ohio to Olympia Fields – “only about a 5 ½-hour drive,” Lagodich said -- about 10 days ago to play the one practice round the USGA allows each player. Both were also struck by the ankle-high rough on a course where Jim Furyk won the 2003 U.S. Open.
A third Marshall player also will be at Olympia Fields with hopes of getting into the Amateur. Jake Miller, who finished his Herd career this past spring, was the first alternate in the qualifying site at Lancaster (Ohio) Country Club. Miller has no idea if he can squeeze into the field, Grobe said … but he’ll be on site with fingers crossed.
“I’m excited as can be,” said Lagodich, who led qualifying – 80 players for three spots – at Tippecanoe Country Club in Canfield, Ohio. “This shows my work is paying off. It’s been a good summer (14th place in the Ohio Open and fifth in the Ohio Amateur) and having the opportunity to play in the U.S. Amateur shows what I’m doing is what I need to do.”
Weiss and Lagodich are the 27th and 28th golfers who have participated in the U.S. Amateur as current players or alumni of the Herd program. Those 28 individuals have combined for 49 appearances, led by Pat Carter’s 13. Carter has the best Amateur finish among the Herd, reaching the quarterfinals in 2003 at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club.
It’s the 12th time since 1968 that Marshall has had multiple players in a U.S. Amateur field. The Herd has had five players in the last six Amateurs, which is the nation’s oldest golf tournament.
Weiss’ grinding effort to medal at the Edgewood qualifier proved his mettle. The course was flooded and the 36-hole event was postponed. When play finally got underway, conditions were hardly ideal.
“I went down there Tuesday (July 14) and tried to search for somewhere to practice, but everything was flooded,” Weiss said. “I went back to Columbus (Ohio) for the night, and then looked for some place in Huntington to practice Wednesday, but some places were closed. I went to Sugarwood with my grandfather and ended up playing 18. That night I stayed at a hotel in Ripley.
“Got to Edgewood Thursday morning and it was rough, but it wasn’t anybody’s fault. The fairways were long, the greens were shaggy and bumpy – but it had rained for two days. The first round (of the day), I thought I played fairly solid, except at 11 (where his ball was buried in mud and he carded a 7).”
With a 75, Weiss was four shots behind the 18-hole leaders. Weiss told Andy Bott, a Herd teammate and his playing partner, he was “attacking every flagstick. I shot 30 on the front.”
It appeared Weiss had no chance, but getting posted scores relayed by Bott family members from the clubhouse, Weiss knew what he needed and finally clinched his berth by two-putting from 20 feet for par for a one-shot triumph.
“It’s the first tournament I’ve actually won in a while, and I needed to win to qualify for the Amateur,” he said. “I went at it with a never-say-die attitude. I had to. That second 18 was the best competitive round I’ve played, considering what was at stake.”
Weiss said his “lifelong swing coach” – pro Scott Jones from Weiss’ hometown Turnberry Golf Club – will caddy in the Amateur for the Herd sophomore. “Hopefully, that will help settle me down,” he said.
Lagodich and Weiss said their college golf experiences at Marshall have helped them prepare for their national tournament debuts next week.
“I tell everybody all of the time,” Lagodich said, “that what I’ve been able to do in golf, my freshman year at Marshall set me up for that. I’ve been able to transcend what I did that year. It was quite a struggle for me, especially compared to my expectations coming in. That struggle as a freshman showed me my weaknesses and told me how I needed to work and what I needed to work on.”
Weiss, who finished 14th in the 2015 Ohio Amateur, called his first Herd season (2014-15) “everything I could ask for and more … I think I had four top 10 finishes and most importantly I learned to compete, and being able to compete at that level instilled confidence in me.
“It took my game to another level and I rolled it right into summer in the Ohio Open, Ohio Amateur and at Edgewood. What more can you ask but to play in the U.S. Amateur?”
Grobe, pointing toward his fourth season as Herd coach, previously coached a U.S. Amateur entrant in Brian Anania, in 2012. Grobe is anxious to see how Lagodich and Weiss fare at Olympia Fields after considering their 2014-15 Marshall seasons.
“To be honest with you thought we were going to redshirt Logan,” Grobe said. “He had the hip surgery last July, and it was supposed to be a 6-7-week recovery from that, so I just didn’t think he was going to make it back in time.
“I thought with the force you put on your hip and amount of walking we do -- 36 holes in a day of competition -- I really thought he wouldn’t play in the fall and then there’d be no reason to play him in the spring. But he came back and then had a year he might have been disappointed in, but I would probably say he was our second-best player.
“Logan improved as the year went on. His game was very inconsistent, coming back from injury, but as the year went on, if a bad round had happened every four rounds, now it was every 10. And we’re looking for him to have a good senior year.
“Alex came in a as freshman, a dual-sports guy, probably even a better baseball player in high school than golfer, and I kind of wasn’t sure which sport he was leaning toward going. I thought he had a lot of ability as a golfer and what we got we were so pleasantly surprised.
“He came in and immediately fought his way into the lineup and as far as a freshman year goes, it was incredible watching him. So, we’re very fortunate that once he gave up baseball and focused on golf alone his game just took off.”
Grobe’s 2015-16 Herd opens the season Sept. 6-8 with the Golfweek Program Challenge, followed a week later by the 46th Joe Feaganes Marshall Invitational, hosted at Guyan Golf & Country Club.
“You hope if everyone on your team gives it a shot (at the U.S. Amateur), you’d have at least one if the field,” Grobe said. “You always expect to have one. I think I’m surprised we have two. There aren’t going to be many college teams in the country that have a couple of guys going to the U.S. Amateur.”
A look at the Herd golf program’s entrants in the U.S. Amateur:
- 1956 – Linden Meade
- 1961 – Jim Ward; 1963 – Harry Hoffer; 1968 – Joe Feaganes, Jim Ward
- 1975 – Jim Ward; 1978 – Jim Ward; 1979 – Steve Fox
- 1980 – Steve Fox; 1982 – Greg Meade, Ty Neal; 1983 – Gary Rusnak, Steve Fox; 1985 – John Yarian; 1986 – Tom Kies; 1987 – Pat Carter, Tom Kies, Joe Vennari; 1988 – Tom Kies; 1989 – Brian Meade
- 1990 – Pat Carter; 1991 – Pat Carter; 1992 – Pat Carter; 1994 – Pat Carter, Sean Duffy; 1995 – Chris Boyd, Sean Duffy, Brad Greenstein; 1996 – Pat Carter, Steve Strawder; 1998 – Pat Carter, Brian Wilkins, Aaron Williams; 1999 – Pat Carter, Bill Hutchinson, Sam O’Dell
- 2000 – Burke Spensky, Steve Fox; 2003 – Pat Carter; 2004 – Pat Carter; 2005 – Pat Carter; 2006 – Pat Carter, Shawn Warren; 2008 – Nathan Kinker
- *2010 – Christian Brand; 2011 – Pat Carter; 2012 – Brian Anania; 2015 – Logan Lagodich, Alex Weiss